Our local church has global impact
By Jay Nies and Mark Saucier
Mercy and solidarity can open up even the most barren soil to an unimaginable harvest.
Columban Father Cathal Gallagher experiences that every day while ministering to people in Lima, Peru, who have HIV-AIDS.
“We know that The Word entered into human history — our history — and continues to enlighten us and invite us to be His disciples and the messengers of God’s love to others,” Fr. Gallagher stated in a homily he recently recorded on the readings for Sunday, July 20.
Click here to see a video of the homily.
Fr. Gallagher is director of “Sí, da Vida,” a program for the prevention of HIV and AIDS and treatment for people who are already affected by it.
“It has been a joy and blessing to watch people grow and in turn bring the message of hope to others,” he said.
“Sí, da Vida” means, “Yes, It Gives Life.”
The program receives major funding from the Mission Office of the Jefferson City diocese.
A collection to support this and many other mission efforts around the globe will be taken up during Masses next weekend, July 19-20.
"New dawn for the Church"
Fr. Gallagher said he believes the world and the Church have been experiencing a major paradigm shift since the election of the first Latin American Pope last year.
“Just as world history changed with the discovery of the New World, there is an air of expectation that with the first Pope from the New World there will be a new dawn for the Church,” the priest stated.
“The message is simple,” he continued. “God loves each and every person and no one is excluded from God’s love. As Pope Francis says, ‘No one can strip us of the dignity bestowed upon us by this boundless and unfailing love.”
Fr. Gallagher asserted that works of love directed to one’s neighbor are the most perfect external manifestation of the interior grace of the Spirit.”
He noted that solidarity is based on empathy with those who suffer, “an ability to look outside ourselves and see the other as a sister or brother.”
“When I see someone as a brother or sister, my first inclination is to help rather than to judge,” he said.
It gives life!
Fr. Gallagher went to Peru from his native Ireland some 30 years ago.
He quickly understood that mercy and compassion are intrinsically linked to the Gospel he was sent to preach and cultivate.
Serving in a parish of 80,000 souls, many of the very poor, he became active in schools and soup kitchens and other means of promoting the God-given dignity of the people in his care.
In turn, they magnified The Word and directed it right back at him.
“The Church has to accept the unruly freedom of The Word, which accomplishes what it wills in ways that surpass our calculations and ways of thinking,” he said.
One day, while visiting a medical dispensary in Lima, he met a young man whose two brothers had died of HIV-AIDS and who thought he would be next.
“I was evangelized by the situation,” Fr. Gallagher recalled.
He soon realized that he was being called not only to help people in that young man’s situation but to empower them with the Word of God.
“Solidarity by its very nature implies empowerment — no longer powerful and powerless but rather every person playing a role in the search for the common good and the making present of God’s Kingdom,” he said.
Fr. Gallagher and his coworkers at “Sí, da Vida” help people living with HIV-AIDS transform a very difficult, frightening condition into the deep soil of a new life.
While the government provides the medication, “Sí, da Vida” helps address the realities and behaviors that led many to contract the disease.
“We set out to empower people so that they may discover within themselves the ability to manage their lifestyle while living with HIV,” Fr. Gallagher said.
Through support groups and the promotion of a regimen of medication, diet and exercise, people learn to manage their condition and not be defined by it.
A key message is “response ability” — their ability to respond positively to their situation.
“We give them the tools to respond,” he said. “We attempt to provide an education which teaches critical thinking and encourages the development of mature moral values.”
In the process, Fr. Gallagher gets to see people grow in hope and love share with other people the joy of their new life.
Participants minister to each other and are encouraged to become active in their communities, promoting good health and addressing the circumstances that allow HIV-AIDS to thrive among the very poor.
“When I see people who themselves live with HIV going out on HIV-prevention campaigns, I am overjoyed, and I know that God is in the work that we do,” he said.
Ambassadors of God’s love
The Diocesan Mission Collection also supports other projects in Peru, Mexico, India and Nigeria.
In the mission fields, children are being fed, wells are being dug and churches are being built.
Elsewhere in Peru, Mercy Sister Millie McNamara runs the Mercy Clinic, which serves tens of thousands of poor people in the barrios where she lives.
In the southern mountains of the country, Father Manuel Vassallo in the Caracoto and Father Manuel Caceres in Huatta and Coata provide sacrament service along with pastoral ministry that address both the rural poverty and the racism that denies justice to indigenous people such as the Quechua Indians.
And in Pisco, the home of Rev. Mr. César Anicama, who hopes to be ordained a priest for this diocese next year, Father José Sánchez continues his work of almost 30 years among the poor.
Fr. Gallagher, in closing his homily, assured his benefactors that they are helping the Church in Latin America become more merciful and effective in announcing the Good News to all people.
“I ask you to continue to be generous and promise you that we will continue to be your faithful ambassadors and messengers of God’s love to others, especially the poor of Peru,” he said.